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In March 2009, the city of San Diego issued a $103 million bond to pay for road repairs and other aging city infrastructure. It will be two-and-a-half years from then before those roads repairs are done.

Why is it taking that long?

I didn’t address this issue in my story last week on the city’s road conditions, but I asked about it.

The answer from city General Services Director Mario Sierra: It just does.

“It’s a difficult question when someone asks me: ‘Why did it take you six months to award a contract,’” Sierra said. “That’s the nature of the business that we’re in and the processes that we have to follow. I wish I could do it in a week, in two weeks. I have the money — I wish I could go out and just hire a contractor and just start immediately.”

Advertising, bidding and City Council approval all take time, Sierra said. This bond money took longer than most to spend, he added, because the city didn’t know when it was coming.

But this issue leads to a bigger question: Can the city handle all the work it needs to do annually to maintain the city’s streets?

Numbers show the city is doing less work than it needs to each year to keep San Diego’s roads from getting worse. And it also takes the city longer than a year to finish the repairs it has scheduled.

The city would need to more than double the minor repairs it has done annually over the last three years to keep the city’s roads from degrading, according to a 2008 Street Division estimate.

In 2009, the city contracted for 35.4 miles of major repairs, but those aren’t yet finished, Sierra said. Even when complete, those repairs will fall 16.6 miles short of the city’s annual needs, according to the estimate.

(The Street Division now calls its 2008 estimate outdated and inaccurate, but has refused to release any other ones.)

Sierra affirmed the city could do all the work that’s necessary. Once the city has an annual plan to fund its roads, the contracting process would go smoother, he said. That effort could begin as soon as next month when a City Council committee will hear what’s being billed as a comprehensive report on the city’s infrastructure maintenance backlog, including the street system.

“We have not implemented a level of funding on an annual basis that would sustain a level of maintenance that we need,” Sierra said. “We’re moving in that direction.”

Councilman Todd Gloria, an advocate for prioritizing road and other infrastructure funding, asked Street Division staff the same question at a recent budget hearing. He was assured the city could handle the work.

In an interview, Gloria said the time needed to do street work strikes a balance between getting repairs done quickly and getting them done right.

‘Without question there’s bureaucracy involved, but quite often that’s because people are seeking checks and balances to make sure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely,” Gloria said.

— LIAM DILLON

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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